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How to Create a Winning College Application Video Essay Introduction

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More colleges and universities are offering applicants the opportunity to submit a video as part of their application. Odds are, you’ll take any opportunity you can get to further differentiate yourself from other applicants. But what is admissions looking for exactly? And how does one go about producing this work of art?


Step One: Read the instructions. And then read them again.

The first step to a strong video submission is knowing exactly what admissions is asking for. Are they looking for a short submission (under one minute)? Are they open to longer videos? Have they outlined what they hope applicants will address or showcase?

The University of Chicago offers a great example of instructions that set applicants on the right path:

If you would like to add your voice to your application, you have the option to submit a two-minute video introduction instead of the traditional college interview, which is not part of our application process. Your recording does not need to be extensively rehearsed or polished, and the video does not need to be edited.


We hope students find creative ways to share their voice and ideas, so we focus on content rather than filming quality when reviewing optional video profiles. For the purposes of our review, it is still impressive if a student is sharing important ideas and perspective on their specific potential for contribution to UChicago even if that video was filmed “selfie-style” on a phone. It is much less helpful if the video is professionally lit and edited, but contains little to no unique information about the student or their specific candidacy for UChicago. We encourage students to film in a quiet space that limits outside distractions (background noise, music, pet or sibling interference, etc). While it’s ok to rehearse your message a bit so that you feel confident and ready, it’s helpful for us to hear these spoken in your normal, conversational voice—memorizing a “script” or reading from prepared sheets/notecards may appear as a less engaged and conversational experience.

Once you have a solid understanding of what admissions is expecting and how much time you have to play with, you can move on to Step Two.

Step Two: Figure out what you’d like to express.

Brainstorm what you would like to reveal about yourself through this video. Or, if you’d prefer to work backward, consider what you’d like admissions to glean from your submission. Your goal should be to answer questions posed by admissions and/or to offer admissions insight into what you hope to achieve over the course of the next four years.

Once you have an idea of what you’d like to convey in your video, you can start working on a loose outline or talking points. To echo the University of Chicago’s instructions, you should not memorize or read from a script in your video. Your voice should be natural, and your tone should be conversational while maintaining a professional demeanor. When you have your bullet points ready, you can move on to the next step.

Step Three: Plan your set, style, and filming strategy.

Now that you know what admissions is looking for and what you’d like to say, it’s time to figure out how you want to convey that information. If you don’t have a lot of time to work with, you might want to film in selfie mode, speaking directly to the camera to answer the prompt in a thoughtful and straightforward way. Just make sure you have a private space to film in.

If you have more time to work with and want to get creative, you can make your video more dynamic. Maybe you’d like to shoot B-roll (background video footage) to show admissions where you come from, the things you like to make, or the people who shaped you while you narrate with voice over. Perhaps you’d like to include static images or soundbites from your creative projects. The options are endless!

Step Four: Review, edit, and polish.

Once you record your masterpiece, you’ll want to complete a quality assurance check to ensure the audio is clear and smooth. Show your video to an expert or a trusted person in your life to get a fresh perspective. Ask them: Does this accurately reflect who I am? Does it feel authentic?

You don’t have to be a skilled video producer to impress admissions here (unless you’re an aspiring film major, in which case your submission should stand out). You just need to demonstrate your interest, fit, and originality. 

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